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Blood pressure readings are given in two numbers.
The top number (systolic) minus the bottom number (diastolic) gives you your pulse pressure. For example, if your resting blood pressure is 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), your pulse pressure is 40 — which is considered a normal and healthy pulse pressure. Generally, a pulse pressure greater than 40 mm Hg is abnormal.
Measuring your pulse pressure may help your doctor predict if you're at risk for a heart event, including a heart attack or stroke. If your pulse pressure is greater than 60 it's considered a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, especially for older adults.
Stiffness of the body's largest artery, the aorta, is the leading cause of increased pulse pressure in older adults. High blood pressure or fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries (atherosclerosis) can make your arteries stiff. The greater your pulse pressure, the stiffer and more damaged the blood vessels are thought to be.
Treating high blood pressure usually reduces pulse pressure. Following a healthy lifestyle is also important. Heart-smart strategies include getting regular exercise, not smoking, limiting alcohol and reducing the amount of salt in your diet.
Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D.
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